The Jade Dragon Mountains loom ahead as we wind our way over this new road, coming closer and closer. Our destination is a tourist type village still under construction with a restaurant, some stores, nice fresh wooden buildings. The place is full of workers and visitors, already. The mountain peaks rise fiercely as a backdrop. There is a chair lift that carries us across open space to the top of ridge, one person per chair. The ride is silent as we glide upward, with tantalizing  glimpses of pleiones, primulas, euphorbias, ariseamas on the steep slope and among the rocks beneath us. 


We alight. There is a corral of brightly clad horses, waiting for tourist riders. We pass up the offer to ride and walk the long wooden walkway to the meadow, surrounded by many happy chattering Chinese visitors.  Arisaemas are abundant in the woods around us. When we arrive in the large meadow there is music and bright splashes of color in the dress of the dancers and singers performing there. They are people of the Yi ethnic group. There are ethnic items for sale - hats, blouses, purses, etc. The music fades slowly into the background, accompanying us on our trek up the wooded slope on the edge of the meadow, and it seems to me a very surrealistic scene.  


The wooded slope beyond the open meadow is dominated by Picea likangensis. The understory includes Paris, Arisaema, Aconitum, Polygonatum, Viola, some spreading Polyganum with purple/brown and gold markings. We scout around, do some collecting, before we glide back down to have lunch at the restaurant. 


After lunch we walk a nearby trail, downhill this time, to the White Water River (Bai - Shui).  It is shallow and so clear, fed by glacial waters as take their downhill course.  A very common Salvia with cream colored flowers, more Arisaema, a group of Androsace spinulifera with exceptionally dark eyes, large colonies of fully blooming primrose yellow Cyripedium  flavum on a bank along the river, yellow Daphne aurantiaca, lots of primulas, lots of various Lonicera in bloom. It is an exhilarating day, too much to remember. 


I have a leech bite. I didn't see it coming, never saw it going, never felt a thing, until I get back to the hotel a few hours later, and notice my blood stained leg and sock, and the blood is still flowing. Interesting.



Lijiang is alive, humming, as night approaches. The street is narrow. I sit on the stoop of an old stone and wood building, Darkness is falling as the full moon rises, bats fly from under the eaves. Children smile and say hello in the twilight.  A small boy poses for my camera, with a  sassy grin and a muscleman act.



Today we head for Zhongdian.  So many passing images, drive-by snapshots blurrring as they build one on another. leaving only impressions behind, becoming a part of my consciousness, my personal repetoire of awareness, and reaction.  I come away filled, I think I can take no more, yet more comes.


Zhongdian is a larger town, in transition, torn apart - buildings coming down, new ones going up, the main street ripped up for most of it's length. It is actually somewhat dismal, on an open plain surrounded by hills of sparse vegetation. There is a large Tibetan Art Festival to be held here next June, and they are 'sprucing up' the city - in a BIG way.


The old part of the city is interesting. There is a large Tibetan population here. We walk the streets this evening. Zhou stops to talk to a family - 3 young men, one young woman, digging, working. They are building on to their home. Their home is like a small compound, walled. Inside the wall, facing the main gate, is a large ornamented building of 2 stories, to the right is a smaller one story building. A big black Tibetan mastiff is tied up in the corner between the two buildings, straining against his leash, barking. They invite us in to see their living area and to have some yak butter tea. Yak butter tea is a staple of the Tibetan diet. It is an honor to be invited in to share a cup. 


We enter the building to the right. It is a single rectangular room, partly divided about halfway with an iron cooking surface, raised off the floor about a foot, a depression on one end glowing with heat coils, covered with a tea pot.


There are a few small stools and a couch. They invite us to sit on the couch. We sit down, neatly in a row. On three walls are delicately carved built-in cabinets of a well polished light colored wood for dishes, tea pots, simple items. A  picture of the city of Llasa dominates the wall above the shelf. Two highly ornamented silver tea pots sit on the shelf. The young woman, mother of two young children, takes the bowl of solid yak butter and spoons some into a small black ceramic pot over the heating coils. I think it also contains some liquid. When it has melted and heated she pours the mixture into a long cylindrical container and swirls and beats it with a long wooden instrument. When sufficiently mixed, she pours it back into the melting pot and then pours it through a bamboo strainer, into each cup, individually.  It is warm and thick and has the taste of a rancid buttery liquid. We drink 2 cups each, out of respect, as they sit and watch us closely, but not drinking themselves. They pass a bowl of finely ground barley. We share a spoonful. The barley is another main component of the diet, their usual breakfast food.  It is not bad.


The house is very clean, simple yet ornamented. The people are proud. It is a wonderful experience.


Dinner tonight is fish soup, mushrooms and vegetables, some chewy chicken dish, yak meat - thick and chewy like beef jerky, a dish of chicken innards, (this is considered a delicacy of a dish, chopped up livers, stomach, small pieces of something with yellow bubbly things attached. I find out that they are embronic eggs), rice, Polygonatum leaves tasting like spinach.



Today we backtrack to explore some of the areas  we traveled through yesterday on our way here, an area referred to as the Zhongdian Plateau. The land is generally dry, dominated by Pinus yunnanensis, and the shrubby Quercus pannosa, although there are also moist meadows of dwarf pink Rhododendrons racemosa stretching far to the hills that rise in the distance, intermixed with the oak. The first stop is a narrow meadow with a gentle hill to the south and a small brushy banked creek running on the north edge. On the dry open slope are many fully blooming specimens of Incarvellia zhongdianensis that we saw earlier at the Kunming Botanical Garden. Until recently this has been called Incarvellia maireii var multifoliata, but has now been upgraded to species status. It has the same large, pink, trumpet-like flowers with bright yellow throats on short stems, but the foliage is distinctivly different, with longer narrower leaves, more pinnately divided with slightly overlapping segments. The flowering season is late in coming on this year, by about 3 weeks they say, so there is not as much is in bloom as we had hoped, but because of it we have a chance to see the earlier blooming Iris reticulata var. nana, single flowers on stems just a few inches high, dark purple with white markings on the falls. The leaves are narrow, almost grasslike, and they spread widely by wiry rhizomes. We see another unidentified Ligularia, just emerging, with pubescent leaves, and the everpresent parade of anemones. Of course, Stellera is here also.  Fritillaria aff. cirrhosa is quietly blooming with single soft yellowish brown hanging tubular bells on 1' stems.   Adonis brevistyla with highly divided almost feathery leaves and nice white flowers grows in patches under and around shrubs. There is a pink geranium with a few scattered blooms.  


Up the road a bit we stop to walk among another sea of dwarf pink Rhododendrons, with the same mix of Quercus, Iris, Incarvellia.  Anemone obtusiloba is abundant, almost a groundcover in places, just a few inches high with flowers of white or shades of lavender. There are scattered specimens of a small plant that looks like a very compact blue leaved Corydalis in foliage,  but it has already bloomed and set seed, with ranunculaceous-like achenes, more like an anemone, though it isn't.  Thermopsis barbata is in perfect bloom, scattered widely about this meadow. This member of the pea family is about 10" tall with small rounded leaflets covered with thick silver hairs, and short spikes of the deepest purple-black flowers - a beautiful thing, quite a contrast to Thermopsis ovata that grows along the roadsides of the Pacific Northwest like a spreading gangly yellow lupine.  




Cleaning plants in Jack's room, we have our first taste of the Chinese Government at work. There is a polite knock on the door, behind which are 2 chinese officials in uniform (I'm surprised somehow at how young they are, or seem to be.) They come calling because of Zhou who is traveling with us, apparently without the proper papers. Sun is summoned from his room. Lots of animated talk follows between him and the official. He has all of our names in his file, but we are okay, the plants are okay, they only want Zhou to leave. He cannot travel with the scientific expedition, or even hang out with us at night.  



Explored Tianchi Lake today. We have picked up a new passenger. Mei has been with us 2 days now. She is a young woman, only 21 years old, works for the foreign service office, and is our personal representative of the Chinese government, sent to accompany us for the next ten days as we travel through this mostly closed area. She seems very nice, with a lively spriit and an appreciation of the beauty around her. She often bursts into song - she has a beautiful voice. I like her very much, even thought we know she is keeping a watchful eye on us. She speaks English, but wants to learn more. She says that "when she can learn English well, then she will have many friends."  She wants us to learn from each other.


My word today. Mei-li - means 'beautiful'



Black pigs and piglets wandering the streets.


Tibetan women with wrinkled brown faces, pink and black turbans, carrying huge loads, sometimes in baskets, sometimes just strapped to their backs.


Yaks running wild across the road, young Tibetans tossing rocks at them to keep them off the road.


Wind ravaged faded prayer flags tied densely on large bundles of tall, dry, twiggy bamboo poles, stablized in deep piles of rocks.


Wind ravaged faded prayer flags tied densely on large bundles of tall, dry, twiggy bamboo poles, stablized in deep piles of rocks.


The forests are decimated from logging here, but some areas show signs of having been replanted.  It looks familiar, like so many places that we have been in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest at home, but the details are different - the yaks grazing freely, the white flowered Clematis montana strewn through the shrubs, the decadent black and white striped spathes of Arisaema elephas poking up through the downed timber, the flat purple flowers of Omphalogramma vincaflora, a rare member of the primula family.  We stop along the road and see Megacodon stylophorum with big fat lusty buds,  straining to open. This monotypic gentian family member has large pleated leaves almost like Gentiana lutea, and tall stems of broad yellowish green bells. Mandragora caulescens blooms nearby - a short bushy plant with large near-black bells.  Primula amethystina var. brevistyla, about 6" tall with a loose head of small hanging purple bells is charming and abundant. In a moist sunny area, the multiflowered stems of Caltha palustris var. chinense blooms gold. Primula sikkimense, about 1' tall, with a loose cluster of hanging yellow narrowly bell like flowers, is common in wet areas. In the open fields that we pass, a small gentian is blooming in great masses, almost like a ground cover. It is Gentiana chungtianensis, an early bloomer for a Gentian


.Tianchi Lake sits at about 12,500.'  It is a big irregularly shaped lake surrounded by acres of rhododendrons. The lateness of the flowering season makes a big difference at this altitude. So much of what grows here is just emerging.  But we see beautiful blooming specimens of Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia with huge crepe textured yellow flowers, a clump forming Myosotis? with bright true blue flowers - common, white Allium humile var. trifurcatum, Rheum sp, (maybe R. alexandre?), starting into growth, so many primulas. We hike up and down the slopes around the lake. Caltha scaposa grows here in abundance in the wet meadows,  with beautiful shiny extra large golden yellow flowers, some individual specomens with attractive dark brown stems. Unfortunately this species is reported to be very difficult to cultivate. A small plant of the Ranunculus family, Oxygraphis glacialis is also very common - a tiny little thing with many shiny flowers of yellow and cream, but making a big impact because it seems to be everywhere around us. It would be nice in a trough.  We come to a huge meadow thick with a dwarf rhododendron sp..  Sun calls this area the 'Sea of Heaven', as we walk over the hills through it, enjoying the pungent fragrance of the crushed foliage. The buds are just starting to open, just enough to create a haze of lavender. In two more weeks it will be blinding in the bright sun. Sun says that he had seen many rhododendron gardens when he was in Britain, but none as beautiful as this. I'm sure he's right. In a clearing in the midst of this field, are 2 very simple wooden structures, I think they are temporary homes for nomadic herders. Beside a small grove of pink budded-white flowered Rhododendrons, a Tibetan man digs roots of Bergenia purpurescens. Broad mats of Cassiope pectinata are starting to open their sweet white bells.  We walk through a thin woodland and I gather some rhizomes of various plants that look like Polygonatum or Smilacina sp.  They are just emerging, so will have to wait to be identified.    


The sun is very bright at this altitude.


This evening I have a ride in a 'taxi' with Sun, a kind of modern day rickshaw - a small open cart, room enough for 2, pulled by a man a bicycle.  We are out buying 2 cases of Pepsi for the trip ahead, and we ride instead of walk the  4 blocks back to the hotel. It cost 2 yuan - about 24 cents American money.


I lost my good trowel today.



Today we travel to Beta Hai. (Hai means 'Sea' - used to name something very large.)


e drive through areas with wide open vistas, see many Tibetan villages and scattered Tibetan homes. Everywhere are giant wheat drying racks, made of tall poles like giant sharpened pencils pointing to the sky.  Many of the homes we pass in this area are in the process of being built. They are large two story structures of wood, highly ornamented with carving, very impressive. Sun says many Tibetans are rich, and that they put a great deal of their income into their homes.


e drive through areas with wide open vistas, see many Tibetan villages and scattered Tibetan homes. Everywhere are giant wheat drying racks, made of tall poles like giant sharpened pencils pointing to the sky.  Many of the homes we pass in this area are in the process of being built. They are large two story structures of wood, highly ornamented with carving, very impressive. Sun says many Tibetans are rich, and that they put a great deal of their income into their homes.


We stop for lunch, sitting in an open field with our backs against a log.  Mats of pink Androsace (delavayi?) bloom on the rocky slope on the side of the road. In the meadow we find our first specimens of Podophyllum hexandrum. The form we find has very heavily mottled leaves and flowers with near red satiny flowers. It is very beautiful, and very different from the pale pink form we grow at home. Clumps of iris are coming up all around, probably I. bullyana, which has become very common along the trip.  A Tibetan man and a young boy pass by as we eat, sit down a few yards from us, staring openly and curiously. We offer them watermelon. I take the boy's picture - he is unsure, but his father encourages him and he smiles with shy pleasure.  An old weathered man walks slowly by leading 2 brightly blanketed horses carrying full loads. We offer him watermelon. He seems pleased by the taste - by the look on his face, it may have been his first. He walks on. 


We continue to drive up the road a bit, to a trail that climbs along a creek and through woods.  As we hike we see (among so much else) intensly blue Corydalis pachycentra, about 6" high, blooming as single stemmed specimens beneath shrubs. Primula sinopurpurea and P. sikkimense are abundant, and pink Primula polyneura, Rheum something, aconitums just emerging, a narrow leaved polygonatum with small flowers of purplish brown, darker inside.  A pink flowered Daphne is in bloom. Caltha  palustis var. chinense  grows along the creek in the shade. lots of ferns. There is so much here,  but we have to go.   


Dinner tonight was mostly hot Sichuan dishes, a mild dish of thin noodles translated to 'ants climbing up a tree', a sweet brandy type wine, fish soup, fried eggplant stuffed with some ground pork stuff, yak meat and more. 


June 6,  Napa Hai

Today we take a long ride to Napa Hai. We pass areas being intensively logged. A single specimen of Paeonia lutea  with yellow flowers lightly stained red in the center blooms on the cliff side of the road. As we investigate, we find many peonys on the downhill slope on the other side of the road. There are some good red forms of P. delavayi, and many intermediate forms. We determine that this is mosly likely a hybrid srwarm, possibly with no true species being represented in this group. Farther up the road we stop and explore a ridge with a grove of yellow Rhododendron wardii, a few are in bloom. There is a Tibetan man walking down the road carrying a huge basket of leaves on his back. Sun says they are Rodgersia leaves, and he is going to cook them before he feeds them to the his yaks. Nearby is a loose makeshift home made of thin logs and sticks and fortified from the wind with a covering of evergreen boughs. An unbearably cute newborn yak totters around in front of it. Notable beneath the rhododendrons are a lavender Corydalis, numerous orchids, and a tiny little tight tuft of a gentian, tucked in between the small rocks and twigs, with tiny upfacing star shaped flowers. It is Gentiana crassicaulis - monocarpic or even possibly an annual - I couldn't get definite information. It would be a gem for a trough, even so.       


We stop at a lush moist meadow on the way down. We see many Cypripedium guttatum with small rounded white flowers heavily spotted with purple growing in abundance, colonies of them popping their heads up among the low mats of junipers. Lots of anemones, swaths of yellow Primula sikkimense, much Euphorbia nematocypha.  Morina alba   grows scattered in sunny open areas, about 1' tall, with small heads of white flowers, and spiny foliage rosettes. Gentiana chungtienensis has become commonplace, seen in almost all the open fields in this area, but it grows here in huge numbers - loose ground level tufts with 1/2 inch clear blue flowers fully open to the noonday sun, so many that it is like walking through a field of azure stars strewn across a sky of green, reflecting the color of the sky above. 


Again I am struck at how common Stellera chamaejasme is here - we have become nonchalant. We see white Clematis montana strewn through shrubs as we drive by on the way back to the hotel. 


We visit a Tibetan lamasery on the way back to the hotel, located on the precipice of a steep hillside just outside of Zhongdian. It is a very large, very old open building, with many private niches. There is such a spiritual and peaceful energy contained here. It is thick with it. It emits from the ancient walls, the gold statues enclosed behind glass, precious for more than their jewels alone, the prayer rugs laid end to end on low wooden platforms running the length of the building towards the altar, the huge red pillars reaching to the high windowed ceiling, the human sized spot on the floor, worn clean and shiny by countless bodies prostrating themselves over many many years, the stair railing rubbed smooth and glowing by countless hands, the candles lit in the darkness, softly illuminating the walls ornate with painting, almost every inch of it decorated in some way, the old drums - I wanted to hear them, to feel them reverberate through me in the dimness of this place.  An old monk with shaved head and threadbare burgundy robe sits crossed legged near the door, softly chanting his prayers, over and over, in a world we can only imagine, oblivious to intruders. The young teenage monks, in newer burgundy robes, are curious, sneaking peeks at us when they can.  It is exalting. 


Mei gave me a red bracelet today. Tomorrow I will give her my book, 'The Beauty of Washington.'


Plant hunting in China - part 3

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

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